10 Plants that Help Bees through the Winter

Four Season Garden

by BC Farms & Food  -  Permalink
October 29, 2016

You can help bees through the winter by growing plants and flowering trees that bloom during the colder seasons. (Article and plant guide continue below slideshow.)

Cornflower, also called Bachelor’s Button, blooms in late spring and continues until November or longer if weather is mild. This self-seeding annual is a good source of nectar, and attracts bees and other pollinators with its intense blue flowers.
Calendula (Pot Marigold) reliably blooms into November in coastal areas. Cut back spent flowers for continued blooms. In mild years with no hard frost, calendula blooms all winter and provides cheerful early spring flowers for bees.
Borage is a hardy annual herb that flowers in June or July and continues into November. Borage does not survive a hard frost. Bees and other pollinators are attracted by the bright blue star-shaped flowers.
Yarrow's tiny close-packed flower clusters provide nectar for pollinators. Yarrow blooms from spring to November. Cut back the flowers after their first bloom for continued flowering. In mild years with no hard frost, yarrow will bloom in winter.
Rosemary has small blue flowers that attract bees. Rosemary blooms at different times of the year, often in March, April or November. Prune this shrub after flowering, but not back to the bare wood. Flowers appear only on new wood.
Primrose, a hardy perennial likes a cool, well-drained growing area. Long regarded as a herald of spring. In south coast BC, primrose blooms from midwinter to spring, with a reprise in October or November.
Heather brings colour in winter with tiny flowers that attract honey bees and bumblebees. This hardy perennial typically buds in November, however an established heather plant can bloom from September to May.
Oregon Grape <i>(Mahonia aquifolium),</i> a tall evergreen native shrub with prickly, holly-like leaves, is a good early attractor for bees and other pollinators. Sprays of small yellow flowers bloom anytime from November through March.
Crocus, Snowdrop and Hyacinth bulbs provide early nectar and pollen for honey bees. The flowers often open in late January and February, providing some of the earliest blooms of the season.
Early blooming fruit trees such as cherry and apple trees flower in February. With each tree bearing hundreds of flowers, they provide a large concentrated food source for pollinators.
Cornflower, also called Bachelor’s Button, blooms in late spring and continues until November or longer if weather is mild. This self-seeding annual is a good source of nectar, and attracts bees and other pollinators with its intense blue flowers.

In temperate maritime south coast British Columbia, a surprising number of hardy annuals, perennials, bulbs and flowering trees bloom in the fall, winter or early spring. Last year, for example, mild winter temperatures kept the hardy annual, calendula, blooming all winter. Yarrow, a hardy perennial herb, often blooms throughout the winter season.

Because bees are still active in colder months, they need winter-blooming flowers that provide pollen and nectar. Honey bees forage on dry days in winter when temperatures reach 13ºC (55ºF) or more. Native bees, most of which are solitary nesters, need warmer weather to begin pollinating, and typically do not emerge until spring. In cities, however, where many warm spaces and gardens with cold-weather flowering plants provide protection and food, sightings of bumblebees in winter and very early spring are becoming more common.

By cultivating a variety of plants that flower successively throughout the fall, winter and spring, you can help feed the bees during the coldest months when few blooms are available. Borders and clusters of flowers attract more pollinators than solitary flowers dispersed throughout the garden. For annuals and perennials, cut back the flowers after their first bloom for continued blossoms.

The guide below shows the approximate bloom dates for cold-hardy plants that help bees through the winter in southern maritime British Columbia.

Cold-Hardy Flowers that Attract Bees in Winter in South Coast BC

Plant Plant Type  Approximate Bloom Dates
Cornflower hardy annual May – November
Calendula hardy annual Spring – November,
Year-round if no hard frost
Borage hardy annual herb June – November
Yarrow hardy perennial herb April – November,
Year-round if no hard frost
Rosemary evergreen perennial herb Varies,
often blooms March / April, November / December
Primrose hardy perennial Midwinter – Spring, October / November
Heather low-growing evergreen shrub Typically November,
once established may bloom September – May
Oregon Grape (Mahonia) evergreen native shrub November – March
Crocus, Snowdrop, Hyacinth perennial bulb January – March
Early Blooming Fruit Trees (Cherry, Apple, Plum, etc.) deciduous tree Starting in February

Bees pollinate nearly three-quarters of the fruits, vegetables nuts and herbs we eat. In fact, we depend on bees for our survival! So let’s help feed the bees by growing successive blooms that provide pollen and nectar throughout the winter.

More articles:
Plants That Attract Beneficial InsectsPlants That Attract Beneficial Insects

Deer Resistant Plants that Attract PollinatorsDeer Resistant Plants That Attract Pollinators

Plant a Bee Attracting GardenPlant a Bee Attracting Garden

Where Have All the Bees Gone?Where Have All the Bees Gone? Clues to the Disappearance of a Vital Pollinator

10 Tips for Year-Round Vegetable Gardens10 Tips for Year-Round Vegetable Gardens

Grow a Climate Change Resilient GardenGrow a Climate Change Resilient Garden

2 Responses leave one →
  1. 2019 March 15
    Ridgemeadowsbutterflyranger permalink

    I spent a while figuring out host and nectar plants for pollinators and the native species of them in northwest bc. Figuring out the successive blooms for butterflies and the bees until winter. I hit a wall running out of blooming flowers in October. Thank you for the post I know I can plant calendula and bachleor button for some food on the colder months.

  2. 2016 November 3
    Michael Evanick permalink

    I have my hives on a quiet mountain in the Shenandoah Valley, I have 12+acres for the bees, I plant many different flowers for the girls, but have found perennials are the way to go. Also I have heard that herbs can help with beatles and other pests that give the bees problems, so I have herbs close to the hives.Whatever works, I am treatment free .This winter I will work on keeping the Bear out they are my biggest problem.

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